An unprecedented Chinese campaign to identify and monitor the political views of villagers in rural areas of Tibet has been especially heavy in the restive eastern prefecture of Chamdo, where residents are forced to fly the Chinese national flag and display photos of top Chinese leaders and are barred from visiting temples, sources say.
Of the more than 20,000 work-team members who have been assigned to the campaign across Tibet, over 7,000 have been deployed to monasteries and villages in the Chamdo (in Chinese, Changdu) area alone, a scene of frequent protests against Beijing’s rule, said Tibetan poet and blogger Woeser, citing information gathered from travelers to the region.
“These days if you travel in the rural Chamdo area, you won’t see traditional Tibetan prayer flags. Instead, you will see the Chinese red national flag with five stars,” the Beijing-based Woeser told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
All 500 monasteries in Chamdo have been forced to fly the flag, Woeser said, adding, “Even individual monks must raise the flag on their private homes.”
The campaign was launched by the ruling Chinese Communist Party leadership nearly two years ago under the guise of an exercise to improve rural living standards in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
Aside from intelligence-gathering, party cadres and other Chinese officials carry out widespread “political re-education” and establish “partisan” security units under the campaign, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report earlier this week..
“Sending cadres periodically to the grassroots is a common practice in China, especially in more leftist administrations and periods,” Columbia University Tibet scholar Robbie Barnett told RFA.
“But nothing has happened in China on this scale in terms of the cost of the operation, the percentage of local cadres involved, and the duration of the project,” Barnett said.
Tibetan families in Chamdo’s farming and nomadic communities must also display photographs of top Chinese leaders, with a ceremonial white scarf—a symbol of respect—draped around the photos, Woeser said.
“If they refuse, this will be treated as a ‘political error,’” she said.
Attempts by Chinese authorities to force Chamdo residents to fly the Chinese flag met with stiff resistance earlier this year.
On Feb. 10, Chinese police in Chamdo’s Dzogang (in Chinese, Zuogong) county rounded up and brutally beat a group of Tibetans following a protest at the start of the Lunar New Year, leaving two with broken bones and taking at least six into custody.
The protest in the county’s Meyul township came after authorities insisted that area residents fly the Chinese national flag from the roofs of their homes, a local source told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“But the Tibetans refused to fly the flags from their roofs,” the man said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Instead, they tore them down and stamped on them,” he said.
Permits for kerosene
In a bid to end the wave of self-immolation protests in which 120 Tibetans to date have set themselves ablaze to challenge Chinese rule, authorities now also require Chamdo residents to present special permits to buy kerosene, Woeser said.
“Government living assistance will be withdrawn from any community in which a resident self-immolates. And if any member of the monastic community self-immolates, their monastery will be shut down,” she said.
Government employees, students, and retirees in Chamdo are also banned from visiting temples or taking part in other religious activities, Woeser said.
“A statue of the [fourteenth-century] religious saint Thangthong Gyalpo that was standing in a school courtyard was even pulled down and thrown into a river because of its ‘irrelevance’ to the school’s architecture,” she said.
In one Chamdo village, a government team was required “to register ‘key personnel’ in the village and maintain ‘close vigilance over them,’” Human Rights Watch said in its June 18 report.
“The term ‘key personnel’ typically refers to people considered likely to cause political unrest,” HRW said.
HRW said that according to official reports, China’s present campaign of monitoring Tibetan areas is “unprecedented” in its scope, size, and cost.
Reported by RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.